Four Things This Summer That Have Changed the Image of the Miami Heat
Two summers ago, the Miami Heat were the most hated team in sports.
LeBron James made a spectacle of his free agency with The Decision, publicly turning his back on a team/city that always needed him more than he needed them.
Chris Bosh tweeted like a maniac, as if he were suddenly cursed with Bieber fever.
And finally, "not one, not two, not three, not four..."
It was a PR nightmare from every standpoint, and the Heat's big three seemed like a spoiled group unable to handle the "Heat" and due for the kind of karmic comeuppance that the Dallas Mavericks eventually handed them in the NBA Finals.
But times are a-changin'.
Here are four things which should boost the Miami Heat's image in the public eye come next season.
Winning a Championship
Success has been proven, time and again, to be the best way to quiet the critics.
Once upon a time, LeBron James was the guy who didn't have the fortitude to lead a team to a championship.
Erik Spoelstra was too wet behind the ears to compete with elite coaches like Doc Rivers.
Dwyane Wade didn't have enough left in the tank to help push Miami over the top.
Chris Bosh was too soft to ever combat the more imposing big men in the league, like Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins.
Basketball is a "team" game and the Miami Heat were trying to win a championship with only three good players.
These are some of the myths that you will no longer be hearing because the Miami Heat walked the walk.
By the way, need I remind anyone that they were the underdog going into the NBA Finals?
Their response? Eliminating the Thunder in five games.
Image shift No. 1: No one will underestimate Miami in the near future.
Let's be honest. A full 90 percent of the reason everyone hates the Miami Heat is because of LeBron James and "The Decision."
But after the season-long soap opera that Dwight Howard made us all suffer through, culminating in a last-minute change-of-heart trade to the Lakers, he is now the rightful owner/face of entitlement in the NBA.
Can you imagine the kind of witch hunt the media would've concocted if LeBron James was responsible for this mess?
Howard essentially held the Orlando Magic hostage for more than a year when he could've sorted this mess out last season by not waiving his player option.
It was never about Stan Van Gundy.
It was never about Otis Smith.
It was just about building his brand.
And now, after people are left to witness the collateral damage of his departure (most agree the Magic got the worst end of the Dwight Howard, four-team blockbuster trade), it will be kind of hard to think of LeBron's indiscretions the same way again.
After all, at least LeBron made a decision.
Image Shift No. 2: "The Decision" isn't the worst thing we've seen in sports anymore.
LeBron Leading Team USA to a Gold Medal
If you've been fortunate enough to have followed Team USA on its quest for gold, it's been hard not to notice LeBron James' contribution to the team.
Assuming the role of leader, LeBron has done everything from calling teammates out for lack of communication to, literally, everything.
Two games ago, LeBron helped lead Team USA over Australia with the first ever triple-double in U.S. Olympic history.
In addition, he has been referred to by sideline broadcaster Doug Collins and Team USA analyst Doc Rivers as the most indispensable player on the team.
At the end of the day, James has been one of the most dominant Olympians for America.
When Team USA wins a gold medal, he will be the biggest reason why.
Image Shift No. 3: LeBron James cementing his status as the best basketball player on the planet.
The NBA Has a New Super Team
It's never easy to start a new trend, but the Miami Heat did just that.
While everyone was busy hating Miami, no one stopped to discuss how much interest the team has generated in the league in the past two seasons.
Check the Nielsen ratings for the last two NBA Finals if you don't believe me.
But now that the NBA has a new super team, the Miami Heat are no longer the big, bad empire of players who "sold out" to play together.
Instead, the league and its fans are beginning to embrace the concept of super teams the same way wrestling fans did when the NWO hit the WWF.
So, in a way, LeBron James and the Miami Heat reinvented the marketing appeal of the NBA by using its "stars" to bring the focus back on the team.
Not to mention, every NBA Finals from this point forward may boast nearly as much star power as the all-star game.
Isn't that the kind of league that we all really want to watch?
As Team USA has proven over the past two weeks, the only thing better than watching superstars play is watching them play together.
This new super team in Los Angeles will only make it that much easier for fans to come to terms with this reality without feeling so guilty about it.
Image Shift No. 5: The incorporation and gradual prevalence of super teams makes the NBA a more enjoyable league to watch. Meanwhile, maybe it will now be easier for fans to admit that they followed Miami so closely these last two years not just to watch them fail, but because they were an enjoyable team to watch and the start of a new and exciting trend.